Immigrants in Benton and Washington counties contributed $6.1 million to the state budget’s bottom line in 2004, a study released this week shows.
The study, commissioned by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and conducted by the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., also showed Arkansas had the fastest-growing Hispanic population between 2000 and 2005, and about 51 percent of immigrants in the state are undocumented.
The study is the first to take an in-depth look at the demographic characteristics and economic impact of immigration on Arkansas, a state that saw a 37 percent growth in immigrants during the first half of this decade to about 123,000.
Northwest Arkansas experienced even higher immigrant growth rates. Benton and Washington counties saw 106 percent and 57 percent growth to 20,296 and 18,414 respectively, the study found.
The study used data from the 2000 Census and surveys conducted in 2005 by the Census Bureau in addition to information from the Arkansas Department of Education. The study included the U.S. born children of immigrants as immigrants themselves, even though they are U.S. citizens.
The Rockefeller Foundation study says immigrants are replacing native workers at the lower wage levels as those better-educated native workers move into higher-paying jobs, but Camarota said studies by his organization show a different dynamic.
James Johnson Jr., a co-author of the Rockefeller study, admitted there seems to be a national preference by employers for immigrant labor, fueled by the immigrants’ willingness to work long hours for lower pay and their tendency to stay longer in those jobs.
“Are they being exploited, yes, probably, but there’s something about an immigrant where the glass is always half full,” Johnson said.
“The reality is their presence indirectly creates tax revenues and jobs” among the native-born population, said Everett Henderson, one of the authors.
The study found immigrants’ economic impact in the state was about $3 billion in 2004. The total includes a 20 percent reduction in immigrant buying power to account for wages sent out of the country. The economic impact is the total contributions from immigrants, including consumer spending and taxes, and costs, including education, health service delivery and imprisonment.
The difference between costs and contributions resulted in a $19 million$158 per immigrantaddition to the state’s budget, the study said.
The study also looked at immigrant family life in Arkansas and found the state’s immigrants are predominately from Mexico and Central America and the state had the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the nation between 2000 and 2005 at 48 percent.
More than half the immigrants in Arkansas are in the country illegally. Nationally, 3 in 10 immigrants are unauthorized with about half of those having overstayed a visa.
Naturalized citizens, the only immigrants eligible to vote, make up 23 percent of the immigrant population, limiting their political clout.
Key findings of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s profile of immigrants in Arkansas.
* Arkansas had the fourth-fastest-growing immigrant population nationwide between 1990 and 2000: 196 percent.
* About half of Arkansas immigrants, or 62,730, are in the state illegally; most come to the state for work.
* Four counties, Benton, Washington, Sebastian and Pulaski, are home to 63 percent of the state’s immigrants.
* Children in immigrant families are more likely than those in native-born families to live with two parents.
* Students with limited English proficiency are concentrated in a handful of districts, mostly in western and Northwest Arkansas.
* The economic impact of immigrants on the Arkansas economy is about $3 billion.
* Immigrant purchasing power is only partially tapped in many localities.
[Editors Note: PDFS of the executive summary and both volumes of “A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas” can be downloaded or opened here.]